Vuelta a España 2018 Stage 20 Preview: Andorra. Escaldes-Engordany › Coll de la Gallina. Santuario de Canolich

Today’s Recap

The stage was going almost identical to yesterday’s preview, with Movistar controlling things all day and a break never allowed clear. Once onto the final climb Quintana launched early and was followed by Kruijswijk. Blog pick Pinot then rode across the gap and made the duo up front a trio. However, that’s when things went a bit off-piste!

Yates attacked from the rest of the GC group and no one was able to follow. Carapaz did some work but he soon went pop and Quintana dropped back from what was now a front four to help pace Valverde. The Colombian then punctured not long later and things went really pear-shaped in that group. No one wanted to commit fully and some more attacks came from Kelderman and Gallopin. Eventually, Bilbao pulled for Lopez but the gap had went out over a minute by then.

The stage and possibly the GC were gone up the road and with Yates continuing to push full gas, Kruijswijk eventually popped in the closing kilometre. Pinot, who had done several turns to be fair, launched his sprint and took what was a “comfortable” stage win in the end, with Yates trailing home 5 seconds behind.

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Wasn’t exactly how I imagined it playing it out but it will do!

Kruijswijk finished in third place, only a further 8 seconds behind Yates, a result that moves him up onto the current GC podium.

Will things change again tomorrow? Let’s have a look at what is in store for the riders.

The Route

The one everyone has apparently been waiting for, but it appears Yates didn’t get the memo today!

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Over 3400m of climbing in only 98km, is it a bit overkill? Pretty much from the gun they will face the Cat-2 climb of Coll de la Comella (4.4km at 7.7%) and no doubt this will be rode at a very aggressive pace as those hoping to make the break look to escape. It wouldn’t surprise me if the break doesn’t go, unless it is a massive move, until the Coll de Beixalis (6.8km at 8.3%) which officially starts at around the 13km into the day mark.

A descent leads into some valley roads and the intermediate sprint point before yet another Cat-1 climb  of the Coll de Ordino (9.4km at 7.2%). It reaches an altitude of 1977m and it might be a place to test those who suffer at that kind of height. Then again, there are still 55kms to go and a lot of racing. Where is Froome when you need him?

Once again a long descent follows before the road rises straight away up yet another Cat-1, but this time they are repeating the Coll de Beixalis.

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Again, the climb is tough but with its distance to the finish will we see anyone go for it? A fairly long descent is followed by the most amount of valley roads the stage has to offer, albeit, they are rudely interrupted by a paltry Cat-3.

It’s then over to the big finish and the last mountain the riders will have to face this Vuelta.

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Touted as Andorra’s toughest climb, it is known for having some double-digit switchbacks near the summit. The 8.1% average gradient will be a killer after what the riders will have had to face throughout the day, but on closer inspection the final 4km are even tougher than that as they average 9.5%. After a tough day, we could see some big gaps.

The Battle for the Top 10

With Yates asserting his dominance today, he now sits with a good buffer over his nearest rivals. Furthermore, both Haig and Adam Yates looked fairly comfortable for the majority of the final climb so he should have strong domestiques with him throughout the day.

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There is scope for movement though but I’m not too sure we’ll see a hail mary attack from the gun by any of the top 5. I would love for it to happen but it is pretty foolish. Even attacking from the second ascent of Beixalis is unwise, unless you have team-mates up the road of course, because a lot of energy can be expended on the valley roads before the summit finish. We might see someone from Uran down try to get into the morning move and it will be interesting to see how it plays out from there. If that happens, then we could see some teams come to the front and ride to protect their GC rider’s placing.

Barring any major catastrophe Yates has this race wrapped up as he was the strongest on the climb today and he has a very solid bit of mountain support too. However, I did say that coming into the final few days of the Giro so who knows…

The battle for the podium is very much on though and any of the guys from 2nd to 5th could finish on it and in any order. That should be the exciting race to watch and it will probably provide some very tactical battles!

How will the stage pan out?

No doubt we will see a big fight to get into the break and those hunting the KOM prize will most definitely feature. Given the amount of points on offer there are still several in with a chance so it will all be about race and pacing management throughout the afternoon, choosing the right move to go with etc.

Once again I think Mitchelton will be happy to let a break go up the road and take the stage win and after their collapse today, I’m not too sure Movistar will be keen to set the pace early on and instead will no doubt turn to an ambush style strategy.

So for the break to be caught it either needs Astana to go crazy, which is possible, or for there to be one of those really awkward riders in the top 15 who will sneak into the top 10 to make the move, and another team closes them down.

One thing that also lends itself to the break is that the once over the second passage of the Beixalis, the riders still have 26km to the foot slopes of the final climb. That’s probably too far out for anyone to fully commit. Furthermore, I think the race tomorrow might just be too tough and it will scare a lot of the GC riders out of trying anything early. Instead, they will wait until the final climb and by then the race might be done ahead of them.

Therefore, for one last time this race, let’s play everyone’s favourite game…

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Candidates

It is hard to read into today’s stage a bit. For example, there are some who finished quite strongly where it is a matter of “do they have good legs?” or “will they be cooked tomorrow?. Likewise, the opposite can be said for those who just rolled home in the grupetto: bad legs or saving themselves?

I’m going to take two from each set and see what happens. I’ll be keeping the next bit brief!

Vincenzo Nibali.

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The Shark of Messina did a lot of work on the front of the peloton during stage 15 in an effort to set up Izagirre before going in the break on stage 17. He failed to live up to expectations on that day but the super steep slopes are not really suited to him anyway. After that stage though he said he was on the up and I think he will want to give it a dig tomorrow to test where his form is at before some Italian Cup races and then the worlds.

Rudy Molard.

Back to back Groupama wins? I was impressed with how long Molard hung on with the main group today so I think his legs are there. An attacking rider, I think he will be let of the leash by Pinot to chase his own success. This season has been a bit of a breakout year for him and after wearing the red jersey already here, can he take a stage win too?

Pello Bilbao.

I was very impressed with Bilbao who hung tight and looked as strong as some of the GC candidates today. His team leader Lopez disappointed me a little because he didn’t have the legs to go earlier on the climb, otherwise he would have asked the Basque rider to do some work sooner. Possibly Astana will allow Bilbao a free role tomorrow? I pointed out before his home stage that he seems to be “doing a Poels” and timing his third week perfectly. It will be tough to beat him if he makes the break.

Michal Kwiatkowski.

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Desperate to make the break today, the Sky rider just rode home with the grupetto to save his legs for tomorrow. He seems really keen to get in a break and win a stage here. The amount of climbing throughout the afternoon could be a test for him but I think he will be fine, especially with the shorter day. He’s been saving himself the past few days for one big blow out, will it end in a win?

Prediction

Bilbao to be given freedom and fly.

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Betting

Dabble on each of the breakers.

1pt WIN on them all;

Kwiatkowski and Nibali @ 50

Bilbao @ 66

Molard @ 100

Thanks as always for reading. Who do you think will win tomorrow and why? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Vuelta a España 2017 Stage 4 Preview; Escaldes-Engordany -> Tarragona

Today’s Recap

If you don’t like the Vuelta, we can’t be friends!

Quick Step decided they wanted to honour the jersey and try to keep it in the team so they controlled the break for the first 2/3rds of the day, never letting the gap grow much bigger than 5 minutes. Which in some ways was good, as neither of the lottery tickets made the move! So I decided to tweet out some thoughts and back Chaves in-play…

Once onto the penultimate climb Sky took over the pace making duties and just about caught the break at the summit. Although we did see some weird UAE tactics with Costa and Atapuma dangling 10 seconds ahead of the peloton for the last few kilometres of the climb. The break was absorbed on the descent with Atapuma now doing the chasing before all hell lot loose on the last climb.

Rosa sprinted into it before peeling off almost instantly. However, some of the GC guys were already distanced due to the difference in speed at the middle of the peloton compared to the front. Some clawed their way back to the Sky train but others didn’t.

Froome launched a vicious attack that only Chaves could follow and the two built up a 10-second or so advantage. Bardet eventually sent off in pursuit, with Aru quickly following. The Froome/Chaves duo crested the climb with roughly a 5 second gap over Bardet/Aru and a further 15 over a group of chasers.

Bardet and Aru caught up with the lead pair on the descent and the pace dropped ever so slightly; allowing the chasers to return at roughly 1km to go.

Roche put in a half-hearted dig but was closed by Chaves. However, Nibali then made a more serious effort with roughly 300m left and no one seemed bothered about chasing him initially and that was it. The Shark had his stage win!

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What a finish line photo as well!

De la Cruz sprinted to second, with Froome in third. The bonus seconds on the line see the Brit into the leader’s jersey with a trio of riders only 2 seconds behind him.

Let’s have a look at what’s in store for the peloton tomorrow.

The Route

A much easier day in the saddle, I’m sure they’ll be glad to know!

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There’s not really much of note apart from a Cat-3 climb to break up the very slow descent to the finish line.

Well, it doesn’t descend all the way to the finish line…

The road does rise in the closing kilometres and it is quite a tricky finale that could catch a few out.

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Having to traverse 6 roundabouts in just under 3.5km will certainly make things messy! The “climb” that you see above is more of a drag, but it averages 1.7%% for a 1.2kms, flattening out at the Flamme Rouge.

At 900m to go the riders will take the long way around this roundabout, exiting it on the left hand side.

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Almost as soon as they leave the roundabout they’ll have to make another time. This time it will be a 90-degree turn, that is made even sharper by the fact the riders are funnelled left once exiting the roundabout.

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The road then snakes for the following 200m before it takes “snaking” to the extreme at just under 500m to go.

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Possibly having to knock off their speed, if the bunch is not stretched out by now, it certainly will be after.

We then have a ridiculously narrow roundabout at 250m to go.

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Which is then duly followed up by an equally narrow exit.

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Let’s just hope the local council have done some road works or at least completed paving the finish since the google maps image was taken in 2015!

How will the stage pan out?

It should be a sprint, but given the lack of top-tier sprinters here a few of the teams might decide to have an early rest day and not pull.

I would not be surprised to see a “shock” break stay all the way to the line.

However, the one thing that is massively against the break is the constant 15km/h headwind that they’ll be cycling into all day. That definitely swings things in favour of the sprinters and because of that I’m sure we’ll see a few of the teams come to an agreement to keep the break in check.

We could be in for a long watch though!

Sprinters

Picking a sprinter for this Vuelta seems to be a minefield. We don’t really have much to go off of from stage 2, given how the race was split apart in all of 2kms. The slight uphill drag before the line also makes it more interesting but all of the sprinters here should manage it easily so it doesn’t affect things too much.

With all that said, I’ll be keeping this relatively short and sweet.

Theuns – Made a massive effort to close the gap on Stage 2 and still managed to get up for 4th. He’s clearly in great form and with Contador struggling today, he might get a few more resources at his disposal tomorrow. That is of course unless his team-mate sprints.

Degenkolb – Admitted he was struggling on the first few days but he might have rode into some form after three stages? I still think it is too early for him but this finish does look ideal for the Degenkolb of 2015.

Trentin – Another rider who is in great form at the moment and with the best lead-out he should be up there. QS seem a team full of confidence and that could just make the difference.

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Molano – The Colombian is a rider that I’ve been looking to forward to watching this Vuelta. He’s a very talented sprinter who excels on tough finishes, winning two stages in Portugal earlier this year. This is a big step up for him but the fact he was close to the front on Stage 2 is promising.

Modolo – Looks to be on good form as he was another rider who made the front split on S2. Arguably the fastest sprinter based on his wins in the past, he has a good chance tomorrow if he’s in the right position. He’ll certainly take the risks to get there.

Blythe – Not a bad start to Aqua Blue’s first ever Grand Tour with the Brit delivering a podium result on the opening stage. Can he go better? Possibly!

Cort – Might get dragged into helping his GT leaders again. So could be nowhere again.

Schwarzmann – Good lead out rider, but I don’t rate him too highly as an actual sprinter.

Van Asbroeck – Solid rider who top 10’d on stage 2 and he’ll be there or thereabouts again.

Lobato – Finish looks good for him but his positioning often lets him down. Could be great, could be awful!

Prediction

A chaotic finish that could lead to a surprise result and possibly a few nasty crashes. Consequently it might be a lottery in regards as to where everyone is positioned on the lead in to the final turn.

However, I’ve been looking forward to this stage for a while as the day that Molano really makes his mark on the pro peloton!

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Vuelta Picks

A tricky day…

Safe Pick – Trentin

Wongshot – LL Sanchez (late attack in the chaotic run in)

Lanterne Rouge – Belkov (he’s been consistently near the back every day!)

Betting

1pt EW on Molano @ 33/1 with B365

 

Thanks as always for reading, hope you enjoyed the detailed finale by pictures! Who do you think will win the chaotic sprint? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.